Topoisomerase IV is the primary cellular target for most quinolones in Gram-positive bacteria; however, its interaction with these agents is poorly understood. Therefore, the effects of four clinically relevant antibacterial quinolones (ciprofloxacin, and three new generation quinolones: trovafloxacin, levofloxacin, and sparfloxacin) on the DNA cleavage/religation reaction of Staphylococcus aureus topoisomerase IV were characterized. These quinolones stimulated enzyme-mediated DNA scission to a similar extent, but their potencies varied significantly. Drug order in the absence of ATP was trovafloxacin > ciprofloxacin > levofloxacin > sparfloxacin. Potency was enhanced by ATP, but to a different extent for each drug. Under all conditions examined, trovafloxacin was the most potent quinolone and sparfloxacin was the least. The enhanced potency of trovafloxacin correlated with several properties. Trovafloxacin induced topoisomerase IV-mediated DNA scission more rapidly than other quinolones and generated more cleavage at some sites. The most striking correlation, however, was between quinolone potency and inhibition of enzyme-mediated DNA religation: the greater the potency, the stronger the inhibition. Dose-response experiments with two topoisomerase IV mutants that confer clinical resistance to quinolones (GrlA(Ser80Phe) and GrlA(Glu84Lys)) indicate that resistance is caused by a decrease in both drug affinity and efficacy. Trovafloxacin is more active against these enzymes than ciprofloxacin because it partially overcomes the effect on affinity. Finally, comparative studies on DNA cleavage and decatenation suggest that the antibacterial properties of trovafloxacin result from increased S. aureus topoisomerase IV-mediated DNA cleavage rather than inhibition of enzyme catalysis.